The banquet has been part of the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in some form or another for more than two decades, said the group’s matrimonial assistant, Tabasum Ahmad. But in recent years, the demand for such banquets has increased, and the society plans to hold them more frequently. More Muslims are embracing them as an acceptable alternative to arranged marriages and the vagaries of 21st-century, American-style dating. Online matchmaking is also popular, but some prefer to meet in person. Saturday night’s banquet was sold out, as was a second one scheduled for Sunday.
The guy in the suit was an electrical engineer from Atlanta named Mo Raza, 30. It was his first banquet. Kadir, who owns an insurance business in Tampa, went to one a couple of years ago and Raza was asking him how it worked.
The format this year entailed having the women sit on one side of a long rectangular table with men close to their age parked across from them. The pairs then spent three minutes chatting, at the end of which the men moved down a seat to talk to the next woman. In the course of two hours, there were to be 27 of these three-minute rounds, along with a dinner, and then a “social hour,” where they could mingle more freely.
Three minutes. The guys pondered this.
“Always ask about them,” Kadir advised. “Make them feel like you’re really into them.”
Raza said he wanted to ask the women whether they wanted to keep working after starting a family, not so much because he had a staunch preference, but to gauge her reaction. “I want to see flexibility,” he said. “Is she angry when I ask? Does she look at me like, ‘You’re so stupid?’ If so, it’s not the right person.”
Kadir was not so sure about that strategy. “You might not want to ask everyone that,” he said.
The real test would be meeting Raza’s mother, who was standing behind him, one of many relatives and friends who accompanied some of the attendees. For traditionally minded Muslims, families are intimately involved in the selection of a mate from the start.
Such a scenario was playing out a few yards away, where Rocky, a neurosurgeon from Chicago, was being prepped by his sister and two of her friends.
“Say, ‘I’m in medicine,’ ” she suggested. “ ‘Neuroscience. What do you do?’ ”
Rocky, a big, tall guy in a gray suit with no tie, laughed. In theory, his MD gives him an edge, Raza and Kadir lamented, doctor being the most preferred occupation among parents. There is one problem with doctors, however: It takes so long to become one. Rocky has been so engrossed in his medical training, a male friend standing next to him explained, he has had no time to meet potential spouses.